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The Meritocracy Trap

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The Meritocracy Trap

Daniel Markovits

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We are in the midst of a dangerous period of social upheaval caused by runaway economic inequality and social division. Yet it is nothing less than an axiom of modern life that meritocracy – the idea of just reward for effort and ability – reigns supreme and promises to promote opportunity for all. So deeply entrenched is this belief in our psyche that, even as society divides itself at almost every turn, all sides can be heard repeating meritocratic notions. After all, meritocracy cuts to the heart of who we think we are.

But what if upward social mobility is an anachronistic fantasy, the embattled middle-class is now far more likely to join the ranks of the working poor than those of the professional class? What if, in fact, meritocracy itself is directly causing the rampant inequality tearing the country apart, not only ruining the lives of a weakening middle class and a struggling working class, but also taking a toll on the rich too? Today’s elites are not born into an old-fashioned aristocracy, but now must exploit themselves and their lavish educations in order to remain unhappily at the top of the heap. What if, both up and down the social ladder, meritocracy itself is a sham?

This is the radical argument that The Meritocracy Trap prosecutes with rare force, comprehensive research, and devastating persuasion. Daniel Markovits, a law professor trained in philosophy and economics, is better placed than most to give the lie to meritocracy. Having spent his life at elite universities, he knows from the inside the corrosive system we are trapped within, as well as how we can take the first steps towards a new world that might once again afford us both prosperity and dignity.

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